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Falling Ruble Sparks Panic Buying Among Russian Shoppers

Russian shoppers are forming long lines in the rush to snap up consumer goods — for both investment purposes and over fears of massive price hikes.
December 17, 2014, 6:15pm
Image via AP/Dmitry Lovetsky

Moscow shoppers are scrambling for consumer goods in an attempt to put their money into anything more stable than the Russian ruble. Also fearing astronomical price hikes, people have formed long lines at stores selling electronics, clothes, and luxury items.

Apple also stopped selling their products online in the country today, claiming that the Russian currency has become too volatile to be able to set prices.

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At a higher end of the scale, the Telegraph reported that richer Russians are investing heavily, and quickly, in the London property market. "I currently have half a dozen Russian clients urgently looking to spend over £20 million ($31m) each on buying a new home in central London," Gary Beauchamp, an estate agent, told the paper.

The ruble has fallen by around 20 percent against the US dollar this week as a nosedive in global oil prices compounds an economy already battered by western sanctions.

tonight in Moscow shops - people convert roubles into goods. Pics from bloggers. — Gennady Simanovsky (@GennadySimanovs)December 17, 2014

M.Video electronics store, Moscow, doing brisk trade as Russians hit shops in anticipation of price hikes on imports — Tom Parfitt (@parfitt_tom)December 17, 2014

Emergency interest rate hike fails to stop ruble's freefall as Russia's economic crisis deepens. Read more here.

As Russia's manufacturing industry has stagnated it has relayed increasingly on its oil production, which accounts for 70 percent of its total exports. The price of Brent crude oil this week dipped below $60 a barrel for the first time since 2009. To put this into perspective, Russia needs an oil price of $100 a barrel to balance its budget.

Western sanctions, resulting from Russian role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, have wounded the Russian economy but the steady fall in oil prices has twisted the knife. Analysts predicted that Moscow may have been able to mask the bruising of sanctions but only if the price of oil had stabilized.

Muscovites shared their worries about their falling currency on Tuesday, as the Russian ruble hit historic lows of nearly 80 to the dollar. Video via Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The decision by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), taken at a meeting at the end of November, not to shore up the price by cutting production was hardly music to Russian ears. Sympathy is unlikely to come from US President Barack Obama who is expected to sign further sanctions by the end of the week.

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People queuing to buy foreign currency in central Moscow. 20 min later change office put up 'temporarily closed' sign — Simon Kruse (@crusoes)December 17, 2014

The Russian Central Bank has been desperately scrambling to halt the free fall of the currency. Having already heavily dipped into its foreign currency reserves to purchase rubles in an attempt to prop up the currency, on Tuesday it announced a dramatic increase in interest rates from 10.5 to 17 percent. The measure, intended to reassure the population, came across as panicked.

There has been some respite for the currency today, as the Central Bank announced a series of measures to stabilize the exchange rate. According to the Guardian, the measures will include allowing Russian banks to temporarily ignore losses caused by the recent devaluation.

Sometimes, you just have to give up. — Jack Farchy (@jfarchy)December 16, 2014

This photo, posted by local Financial Times correspondent Jack Farchy, shows a currency booth in Moscow that stopped displaying exchange rate information after the collapse.